It was ten o’clock and my parents were already in bed. They were not fond of the idea of late-night visitors—especially young men–but for some reason, they did not object when I broached the subject earlier in the day. Maybe that was because I didn’t ask them if it was alright; I told them instead. I felt quite bold.
“Phil wants to stop in after work. He can’t be here until about ten o’clock, but he won’t stay long. We’ll be quiet.” The sideways, raised-eyebrow glance I got was as good as a yes.
Christmas was only a few days away and it was snowing. He decided to walk the mile from his house to mine rather than worry his mother by taking the car on the increasingly slippery roads. Although he had often popped in for a quick hello with his friends in tow throughout the summer, this was his first real visit. His first alone visit.
My parents’ house was a modest one. All the rooms were small, tightly constructed, and hopelessly connected. No matter what room we chose to sit in, there would be the worry that my parents’ sleep might be disturbed by the muffled sounds of our conversation. I was equally afraid that they may misinterpret the innocent sounds of human movement: the groan made by an old chair as one arises from it, the sounds coming from a creaky couch as one shifts his weight.
If my parents were awakened, surely my mother would nudge my father, signaling to him that it was time to arise from the warmth of his side of the bed, put on his robe and slippers, and pad down the hallway to tell us that “visiting hours” were over. I didn’t want that to happen, so I chose the back porch for our visit.
My father had built the porch himself many years before. It was a lovely place to sit in the warmer weather, but could not be comfortably used any other time of year until he had installed a wood-burning stove a few months before. On this night, Dad had lit the fire before dinner and had banked its ashes before bedtime. As the embers died out, the porch grew steadily colder. I wondered if Philip felt the cold.
We whispered around melodies of music playing ever so quietly. Snowflakes pirouetted in the moonlight as we spoke in soft tones of everything and nothing. It was so easy to be with him. He was open and honest, funny and sensitive, warm and reassuring. I felt shy and quite in awe of him.
The kitchen clock, visible from the porch doorway, reminded us that midnight was approaching. As snowflakes turned icy and threw themselves against the porch windows, Philip stood up to begin his journey home. We turned to one another and settled into the warmth and calm of a first embrace.
The sacred space between us melded together as our lips barely touched, then gently lingered. Time loosened its hold upon us, the world fell away, the cosmos became a bystander of little consequence.
This was not the hard, passionate, no-holds-barred, too-much-too-soon kiss of passion-filled, newfound lovers. It was the love-flooded kind of kiss a mother gives her newborn child—sweet and soft, filled with aching gratitude. Our hearts eased open, then settled into calm certainty. In the space of one tentative, lingering kiss, our destiny revealed itself: we would share our lives “until death do us part.”
The story of our first kiss achieved legendary status and Philip relished the retelling.
“We were on your porch and it was Christmas time. It was snowing and I had to walk home, but I don’t remember my feet ever touching the ground. I knew I loved you right then and there. That was some kiss.”
December 23, 2004
It was snowing and no amount of warmth could chase away the cold. I was lying on Philip’s side of the bed, trying to fill it up. I could not find the rhythm of ordinary breath; violent spasms of sorrow choked me. My heart pounded with such fierce relentlessness that I began to wonder if I would die on that very night. I clutched the pillow to my chest to calm the wildness from my heart. Desperately needing the respite that an hour or two of sleep would provide, I prayed shamelessly for relief from this new-found and awful exhaustion, this gut-wrenching grief, these thousands of unrelenting tears.
The clock next to our bed taunted me in the hours after midnight. As night gave way to day, I begged God for a few moments of respite. All things familiar looked foreign and menacing, reminders that nothing would ever be the same. The world had turned cold and foreboding in the space of a heartbeat—the one unsuspecting moment when “ until death do us part” came calling. Eyes raw, body pummeled, my heart was broken open.
Sleep mercifully came when night surrendered its hold over the day. It was an uneasy sleep—only deep enough and long enough to dream a vivid dream.
Philip and I were riding in a Volkswagen—the kind we used to refer to as a “beetle” because of its shape–with a manual stick shift between the two front seats. He was driving and although we were very cramped in such a small car, we were very happy together. We were laughing and talking as we drove through an unfamiliar town, looking for a place to buy something sweet to eat. Off to the left, we spotted a bakery and decided it would be nice to get one of those large, round, chocolate-chip cookies that we both liked. Philip turned into the driveway, looking for a place to park behind the shop. Instead, we came upon a brick wall—a dead end—in front of us.
As we came to a complete stop in front of the brick wall, my first thought was, “No problem. We’ll just back up and look for another way.” But Philip did not do that. Slowly he turned to me and smiled a small, gentle smile, the kind of smile that doesn’t reach the eyes. His wordless thoughts flooded my soul.
“I am sorry for doing this to you. It was not my choice to go. Thank you for loving me, for believing in me, for refusing to abandon me when I was at my worst.”
His good-by eyes were sad and tender and resigned. I felt fear and confusion. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t just put the car in reverse and back it up away from the wall. He took his hands off the steering wheel, closed his eyes, and leaned toward me. As I turned to him, our lips touched softly and lingered. It was the same gentle, tentative kiss we had shared on my back porch some thirty-four years before. Time had stopped, the world we knew crumbled and fell away, and the cosmos became a patient bystander, waiting to take him away to a place I could not go.
My fingers went straight to my lips as I awoke. With great heaving sobs of sorrow and gratitude, I knew that this was Philip’s final good-by gift to me—a kiss, our kiss—the kiss that had marked the beginning and now the ending of our lives together.
Like time coming back around itself, the two kisses had become one: a first kiss, gently sealing a promise of deepening love and commitment, and a last kiss, filled with a lifetime of gratitude, acknowledging that promise fulfilled.